Wednesday, June 30, 2010

adventures in sinaesthesia: the object of desire

440px-Ananas_comosus_Blanco2.458 I really like J-lo’s Deseo. I know we are supposed to scorn celebrity fragrances until they convince us otherwise with some exceptional quality or other, but I have liked this fragrance from the get-go.

You know how a pineapple’s acidity makes your tongue tingle in that weird way that only pineapples can accomplish? Well, Deseo makes that same thing happen in my mouth when  I smell it—isn’t that strange? It is pineapple on me, but not in a bonne belle type of way. It is pineapple in a difficult, acidic, slightly green, sour sort of way. I really love the composition, actually—lots of painful pineapple sitting atop a lovely chypre structure, with a little green coconut thrown in to make consumers realize (if they haven’t already, the dullards) that it is ‘tropical.’ I don’t think of this as a ‘fruity floral’ at all in fact—more of a sour chypre.

And then, there’s the bottle. I LOOVVEE this bottle. At first, I thought: tacky. Then I thought: hey, it’s kinda cool how it is designed—I love the way the cap fits on. Then I thought: wow, this feels so good when I hold it in my hand. It fits perfectly into my palm, like IMG_5152 it's meant to live there. Then I started really fetishizing this bottle, wondering if I could use it for massage, admiring the way its facets caught the light, etc. Then, I noticed how nice it looked in front of a pic of my then-boyfriend (now husband of almost five years!) in a picture I took of him in Mexico. Then I started keeping the two together on my desk, admiring the colors. Then I found myself taking a picture of the bottle sitting on the picture. Then….I started wondering: what’s wrong with me—why am I carrying on in this strange way with a bottle of celebrity perfume?

But honestly, you gotta hold this gem in your hand. If you don’t fall in love, then you must be immune to the elemental pull of enchantingly telluric gems and minerals—Frodo should entrust you with the One Ring, for its charms will be lost on you (LOL!) Ok, I am sounding all kinds of crazy with this post, so I’m gonna cut this party off, finishing with a new adventure:

SO, for this week’s official adventure in sinaesthesia, I suggest you:IMG_2820

  1. spritz on Deseo
  2. put some João Gilberto on the stereo
  3. make yourself a pina colada with real fresh pineapple and unsweetened coconut milk
  4. find a sunny spot near some green plants—make them as tropical looking as possible, please-- spread out a blanket or lawn chair and…
  5. pretend you are a tropical goddess (or god) being waited upon by scores of servants, who only want you to ‘unwind’ for a few hours from your super-intense and successful career.

And, because, I just can’t help myself……


Pineapple plate from Flora de Filipinas [...] Gran edicion [...] [Atlas II], by Francisco Manuel Blanco courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Other pics mine (the third is of me and my hubby in Brazil)

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Tauerama!: L’air du desert Marocain

800px-Marokko_Wüste_02 I have to admit I’ve been a little nervous about reviewing this perfume for my Tauer giveaway (enter the drawing here) for several reasons. A: it has been reviewed often by better noses than I (although I know that’s no excuse, since I seem to have no trouble reviewing other famousFile:Reg. Maroc saharien. Région du Dra.jpg scents). B: it has such a devoted following that I might alienate my readers if I say something they don’t like (not a problem, I think, since I love it as well) and C: how can I present L’air du Desert Marocain in a novel light? I thought maybe I would wait until I go on my August trip to Morocco, then talk about LDDM through my experiences there. But then I realized I couldn’t really keep you all waiting for the draw all summer. So, I’ve bitten the bullet, friends, and am sitting down to write about Andy Tauer’s most acclaimed creation.

To put this scent to the test, I invited friends over for a Spanish/Moroccan feast at my place. I decided I would wear l’air du desert all night and see how it played with the exotic food I was preparing, for, as far as I’m concerned, a fragrance needs IMG_5110to play nicely with food if I’m going to consider wearing it more than a few times, since my life revolves around preparing food (I throw at least one, maybe two dinner parties a week on average—it’s the only way I have found to keep the house clean and keep friends at the same time!)

The Menu?

Sherry (Manzanilla) courses

Green olives in homemade herb pesto

Black olives in homemade pepper oil

pan-toasted cumin almonds


Cold cream of celery and garlic soup with Zaatar croutons


Cold Spanish Tortilla, and sliced romaine salad with tahini-lemon dressing


Rioja Course

Herb-encrusted rack of lamb

whole wheat couscous with a carrot-onion-raisin tagine and brown chickpea stew


Riesling Course

light desert (ha, I meant dessert) of freshly picked strawberries in creamIMG_5108

I put on l’air du desert as I prepared to cook, wanting to interact with it as the heat from my exertion and the  oven made it rise into the air throughout the afternoon. On the right, you can see that our cat Oliver (who seems to always know when people will be coming over)was already sulking in my office.

As I cooked, the scent began to rise off my chest in a magnificent spicy steam—I reveled in it, and its influence might—just might—have made me add IMG_5121too many spices for my German friends’ palates.

At left, you can see some of my many pots simmering away.

As well as the Tauer masterpiece went with the pots full of legumes, onions and spices, I think it did at least as welIMG_5125l if not better with the lovely spray roses my husband brought home—with herbs from the garden added in, the faint herbaceous notes, as well as the more assertive resinous notes of L’air du desert came to the fore.


As we ate the salty, dry sherry course, I sensed a little of the ambergris—here, superbly blended and ever so slightly salty—and the woody and cumin notes came forward as we ate the slightly bitter cumin-encruIMG_5142sted roasted almonds. 

I’m afraid at that point, I forgot to keep taking pictures,  but I assure you that this fragrance kept me feeling as happy as a clam all throughout that long, muggy dinner.

In the end, I can’t think what else to say about this besides that it is a brilliant, beautiful, dryly shimmering, round yet sharp work of genius. I loved it from beginning to end, and can’t recommend it highly enough to do it justice. It’s just love, that’s all.

IMG_5143 At the end of the meal, my brother, a professional  cellist, played some of his original compositions for us, his admiring-and very full—audience. The L’air du desert Marocain made it heaven.

IMG_5144 (everyone listening to David’s playing) You can hear it too if you check out his website here.


oh, and a pic of my husband’s sangria:



English: Dunes in the east of Merzouga, Morocco near the border to Algeria. Yellow light in Sahara desert. Taken by Joadl

Dans le sud marocain un reg (surface horizontale formée de cailloux de couleur noire due à des oxydes métaliiques). Dans le fond un massif sableux dunaire. Taken by Alexandrin

Both courtesy of Wikipedia Commons. All other pics mine.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Electrical Storm: (notes from my lunar insomnia)

800px-Thunderstorm_-_NOAA Last night, we had a thunderstorm here like you wouldn’t believe, and because It’s still a full moon, for all intents and purposes, I passed a very sleepless night. The sky cracked with energy and moisture as I lay awake in our hot, hot muggy room, both of us naked with the sheets thrown completely off. Finally, unable to lie alone with my thoughts any longer, I got up and went to the couch to read. I spritzed on some Dzonkha, and the dry smoke/cardamom/incense/and dirt, my cat Oliver, and I all sat down together, waiting for the storm to break…..

U2’s song “Electrical Storm” kept spinning through my tired head:

The sea is swells like a sore head
and the night it is aching
Two lovers lie with no sheets on their bed
and the day it is breaking
On rainy days we go swimming out
on rainy days, swimming in the sound
On rainy days we go swimming out

You're in my mind all of the time
I know that's not enough
if the sky can crack
there must be some way back
for love and only love
It's hot as hell, honey in this room
sure hope the weather will break soon
the air is heavy, heavy as a truck
hope the rain will wash away our bad luck

I like U2 sometimes; sometimes Bono’s Napoleonic antics irritate the hell out of me, but I can’t think of a better song for such a sleepless night charged with the universe’s angry energy.


I always thought the thunder god must be a lonely man, throwing around those thunderbolts in his bootless rage….


MY hometown was hit by a massive tornado a few days ago—I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately. I feel very grateful that my family lives on the other side of town.


There is no sense of danger more elemental, no fear more atavistic, than that called forth by an angry sky, nature’s most horrifying sign.  

CREDITS: Image of thunderstorm from

Goyen’s “The Thunderstorm” courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Another Perfume Riddle

Oedipus_And_The_Sphinx_-_Project_Gutenberg_eText_14994 (1)

Welcome to the second installment of my new feature here on Hortus Conclusus, in which a perfume bottle sings a little riddle, and it’s up to you, dear readers, to guess which bottle of perfume is riddling. Which of you will be the first to guess this one, I wonder? This poem is an emulation of Dr. Seuss’s genius rhyme about the Flooboober Babboober bubs in On Beyond Zebra, one of the first poems I memorized as a child:

If sometimes you don’t feel like channeling mother,

put me on, for I smell like blubbery rubber.

I’m no good to eat and I’m kind of a Goth,

(If one says that with color that repels the moth)

Although I am housed with luxury baubles,

I’d prefer an alley where the streetwalker wobbles.

I’m green and I’m amber as well as a powder,

but my signature note sings considerably louder.

If you know who I am, then tell me my name

though my brothers and sisters sound somewhat the same,

I am quite unique; unlike them, I’m no hack.

My name, my dear friends, is ____________!


CREDITS: Image of Oedipus and the Sphinx from courtesy of Project Gutenberg

Saturday, June 26, 2010

An amusing read!

robinhoodpyle IN my other non-perfumista life, I am writing a dissertation on the Robin_Hoodmedieval English outlaw  tradition, so this hilarious post over at “Geoffrey Chaucer hath a Blog” really tickled my funnybone this morning. Check it out, if only to marvel that this blogger writes everything in Middle English!

I think it is especially fun to think about Robin Hood in the summer months, when the leaves are green and the birds are singing, and it’s possible to imagine a happy life among the greenwood trees, living off the land and an occasional deer.

Question: is there a fragrance that captures the summer scent of a ferny deciduous forest? My go-to Robin Hood perfume (yes, I have one, why are you looking at me so funny?) is Wild Hunt, but that isn’t really high summer. Suggestions, anyone?


Images by Wyeth and Pyle, courtesy of the Robin Hood Project

lunar beauty (notes from my lunar insomnia)

1274922061985  Asteres me'n a?mfi ka'lan sela'nnan
a?^ips a?pykru'ptoisi fa'ennon ei?^dos,
o?'ppota plh'ðoisa ma'lista la'mphs
a?rguria ga^n.

The gleaming stars all about the shining moon
Hide their bright faces, when full-orbed and splendid
In the sky she floats, flooding the shadowed earth
with clear silver light.

(Sappho, quoted by Eustathius of Thessalonica in the twelfth century.) Tonight, I, the moon, and Bois des Isles sit silently together, looking out over an illuminated landscape.  Perfect contentm1274921786207ent and absolute restlessness vie with one another within my mortal frame. Just another sleepless night on the full moon.

My husband took a bunch of really cool photos of the full moon from my dissertation advisor’s country home in Danby, New York. As I sit alone, awake, tonight, I think it is quite a nice series. But then, I’m partial. Sleep well, all.1274921903663





Don’t let the bedbugs bite…..

Credits: text from

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Where the bee sucks, there suck I

mexican orange blossom

Where the bee sucks, there suck I;
In a cowslip's bell I lie;
There I couch when owls do cry.
On the bat's back I do fly
After summer merrily.
Merrily, merrily shall I live now
Under the blossom that hangs on the bough.

SO says the freed Ariel, and so do I wish I could do. Alas, I am but a human and must content myself with sucking nectar from a different kind of vessel. And I found some interesting new nectar in an unexpected place this morning.

A few weeks ago, Jessica said:

“Ever since I started reading your blog I have been searching for scents that I like and find wearable (which, admittedly, are rather few). One of my absolute favorite smells and flavors is citrus (particularly orange blossom, can you recommend a

good--and perhaps more widely available--soliflore? Serge Lutens is kind of inaccessible from my current location). I have always loved the marriage of citrus and "darker" elements when done right; glad to have you with us. ;)”

Well, Jessica, the accessible soliflore is available at a mall near you, at 75% off. It’s part of Victoria’s Secret’s Parfums intimes line, and called Lace—Orange Blossom. Although most of the VS line seems to consist almost exclusively in cramming as much synthetic vanilla into one small bottle as possible, the parfums intimes series took me by happy surprise—so of course, the line is being discontinued. My favorite403px-Orange_Blossom_(NGM_XXXI_p504) of the bunch, lace-orange blossom is a very nice soliflore that surprised me with its quality. It is unapologetically indolic and intense—reminding me favorably of Serge Lutens’ fleurs d’oranger. As the very natural, almost holographic  orange blossom burns off, a dull, throbbing, somewhat organically sour white floral remains behind, as well as a bit of well-rounded musk and some sort of blond wood and a salty twinge. All in all, I think if I were to smell  this blind, not knowing it came from the monstrous Victoria’s Secret/ Bath and Body Works conglomerate, I would never guess it. I would immediately think it was the product of some artisanal perfumer’s labor and reflection. 

bottom line: a begrudging thumbs-up!

So, Jessica, my dear, if you are still interested, head off to that heinous semi-annual sale and smell this. It might be something you like, and for 11 bucks, who could say no?


bee on Mexican orange blossom,(c) w:fr:Utilisateur:FoeNyx – 2005.  Painting by Mary E. Eaton from oldwikisource:, 03:52, 31 October 2004 . . Moverton (Talk | contribs) . . 550×818 (108,811 bytes) (ORANGE BLOSSOM (Citrus sinensis Osbeck).

the question is: what would Emeraude look like?

MARGARITA Check out this amazing series of pictures of different kinds of alcohol under the microscope. (There are lots more at the linked webvodkasite.)

What blows my mind is how much the images seem to express, in an abstract  way, each drink’s ‘personality.’ Each image really captures the spirit of the thing (sorry, couldn’t resist).

I wonder what a similar series of pictures of iconic perfumes would look like….. Food for thought, anyway.



Images of Margarita,  vodka, and tequila under microscope found at

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Adventures in sinaesthesia: a fragrant videogame!

lostwinds-20080408034306093_640w I’m not some huge videogame buff, much preferring to spend my leisure hours reading, hanging with friends, or even watching shows, but once in a while I do enjoy a good zone-out on our Playstation or Wii consoles. The proble

m I have with videogames is that they are often too violent for my tastes, or they require some sort of intense focus, which is about the last thing I want after a long day studying.

To my great delight, I have found a game—or really, two games—on the Wii console that I really enjoy playing. Called Lostwinds and Lostwinds: Winter of the Melodias, this game allows you and a companion to wander through a Zen-like natural landscape on a slow-moving quest to do something or other (the plot’s just not that important, and there’s no hurry). It’s meditative, beautiful, and best of all, it is fragrant! Well, you can’t actually smell all the flowers in bloom, but you can see them release their scent and pollen in the air—it’s the next best thing to really smelling the and I find it quite lovely. You can shake ferns, flowers, and trees with your cursor to make them release pollen and little spirits—little animistic deities that live inside a

ll living things, I presume, for this is a quintessentially Japanese game.

SO, for this week’s adventure in sinaesthesia, if you feel so inclined: make yourself a nice floral drink, spritz on a fougere or a white floral fragrance, and enjoy a few quiet hours playing this pleasant little game.

I look forward to cracking this game out again in the dead of winter, when not a bloom nor a leaf remains to be seen, and I’m starving for a little natural beauty that’s not covered with hoarfrost.

You can’t buy this game at a store; it can only be purchased (at a quite reasonable price) on the wiiware store on your wii console (if you have one)

OK, now, reading this over, I feel like kind of a sellout, but I really did enjoy playing this; it appealed to my sensibilities. 


screenshot courtesy of

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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Tauerama!: Incense Extreme review


The countdown continues for my Tauer perfumes discovery set giveaway. If you are interested, I encourage you to enter the draw here. 578px-Incense

As its name suggests, Incense Extreme is a dry and pleasantly intense incense perfume, straightforward in its intentions, with a brace of bitter herbs at the opening. It then morphs into a very well-composed resinous frankincense and myrrh rounded out with what smell to me like cedar and roses—the immediately recognizable Tauer ones, which are distinct, as far as my nose can tell, from all other roses I have smelled. It takes on an almost tarry, leathery resonance in the drydown—at one point I was asking myself: is this more of  a leather fragrance than an incense one? 

Like all of Tauer’s creation, this is well-crafted, interesting, and long-lasting, with a distinct roundedness I get from all Tauer’s scents—and I lo431px-Påskeprosesjon_Caceres_ (1)ve it very much. It is resinous and woody, but never loses a certain sweet floral note that keeps it approachable. I would heartily recommend Incense Extreme to any incense/aromatics lover, although at times I felt myself wishing for a little darker profile—a little more smolder in this smoke.

One final note: I can’t find the orris root in this composition at all, although the official notes name it—I wonder if this is, in fact, a really cool thing, since, as far as I can tell, orris perhaps should not be detectable when used correctly to give roundness and depth to everything else…..


Burning incense sticks at Mount Wutai, China, taken by David Wilmot, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Incense burning in Egyptian market, taken by B. Simpson Cairocamels,

Easter procession in Caceres taken by Nina Aldin Thune

courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Monday, June 21, 2010

Happy Midsummer!

oberon titania I love seasonal changes! In fact, I love them so much that I even teach a class about them at my university, called (admittedly a bit awkwardly) “A Midsummer Night’s Weirdness.” This class chronicles in particular the liminal moments of the seasonal year as celebrated in traditional societies, for long before Shakespeare wrote his play, strange things have been happening on the longest day of summer and the longest day of winter in Medieval European literature. Portals to other realms open up, lovers fall in and out of love, strange fairy women appear to choose a mate or a victim, and magic boats materialize at the shore, waiting to take an adventurous hero away on a voyage he’ll never forget—and from which he may never return. My class examines some of the texts which describe the otherworldly effects of these weirdest of nights, including Celtic, French, and Spanish romance, including works by Chrétien de Troyes and Marie de France, Sir Gawain and The Green Knight, British ballads, fairy and folk tales, and of course, Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream.

One of my favorite bits of literature about midsummer to teach is La Misa de amor (the Mass of Love), a traditional late-medieval Spanish ballad, in which a supernatural being enters the church on a Midsummer morning, throwing the worshipers into confusion. I include the original for you Spanish speakers out there, then follow it with my own rough translation (sorry, don’t have my dictionary with me, so some of the vocab might be a little off—especially some of the archaic terms for the Lady’s wardrobe):

La Misa de Amor :

Mañanita de San Juan, 245px-Morgan,_Evelyn_de_-_Flora_-_1894
mañanita de primor,
cuando damas y galanes
van a oír misa mayor.

Allá va la mi señora,
entre todas la mejor;
viste saya sobre saya,
mantellín de tornasol,
camisa con oro y perlas
bordada en el cabezón.
En la su boca muy linda,
lleva un poco de dulzor;
En la su cara tan blanca,
un poquito de arrebol,

en los sus ojuelos garzos
lleva un poco de alcohol;
así entraba en la iglesia,
relumbrando como el sol.
Las damas mueren de envidia
y los galanes de amor.
El que cantaba en el coro,
en el Credo se perdió;
el abad que dice misa,
ha cambiado la lición;
monaguillos que le ayudan,
no aciertan responder, non.
Por decir: "Amén, amén",
decían: "Amor, amor".

Collected by Ramón Menéndez Pidal in Flor Nueva de Romances Viejos.

My translation:

It was the morning of St.  John’s Day (Midsummer)

early in the morning,

when gentlemen and ladies

go to hear mass.

In then came the lady,

among all the very best,

With a bunch of piled up petticoats (?),

and a mantle the color of a sunflower,

A dress with gold and pearls,

embroidered at the hem.

In her little mouth so lovely,

she sucked on a little sweet,

and on her lovely face, a little bit of blush.

Her hazel eyes sparkled as if with alcohol. (?)

thus she entered the church

shining like the sun.

The ladies were dying of envy,

and the gentlemen of love.

Anyone who sung in the choir,

forgot the words of the creed.

The abbot who is reading the gospel,

has messed up the readings

and the little acolytes who aid him,

they don’t know how to respond.

When they mean to respond: ‘amen, amen’,

they can only say: ‘amor, amor’!

Thus the wild spirit of Midsummer and love messes with staid reality in the most pleasant ways! I wish you all a very pleasant Midsummer Night's Eve!

CREDITS: Evelyn de Morgan’s Flora and Sir Joseph Noel Paton’s Titania and Oberon courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


fragrance shopping in Detroit.

IMG_5092 There has been a lot of bad press about Detroit and its environs lately, but I must say, it is a great place to shop for perfume. I have had a great time this past week exploring the little specialty boutiques, as well as the big stores packed with scent. It is a welcome change for me from my small upstate town, which is nice in its way, but has absolutely nowhere to sniff things! SO here, my list of must-dos in Detroit for perfumistas.

First, one simply must head off to Birmingham, a gay-friendly suburb of IMG_5095 the big city filled with locally-owned upscale boutiques as well as a few chain stores here and there. There you’ll find two very pleasant venues for sniffing. Well, actually, these shops are more than just pleasant. I had a great time in both of these charming boutiques, and found myself wishing I lived closer so I could enjoy the sniffings offered in Birmingham more often.

IMG_5097 The first, Lori Karbal, is  an adorable, well-curated beauty supply and clothing store. I spoke with the very helpful and well-informed owner Lori, who told me that she had run the store for 19 years! She obviously knew her stuff, and had a clear passion for fragrance. The perfumes offered stand on a series of shelves near the door, and I got a good 40 minutes of sniffing pleasure there, and would happily have stayed longer—I’m sure I would have been welcome to do so. The ambience is cozy and creative, and I really liked all the women working there. They were very helpful butIMG_5098 not pushy at all. Here’s a list of the lines they carry there: Santa Maria Novella, I profumi di Firenze,  L’artisan, Keiko Mecheri, Fresh, Perfect, Tsi-La, love comes from within, and Loree rodkin.  I left with four large bottles of the Loree Rodkin patchouli based EDC line, at a very reasonable price. (I know,IMG_5101 ironic, right, after my post about keeping the addiction under control)

Lori told me that she was getting a lot of new niche lines in, some of which have not been carried much in the states. I look forward to seeing them the next time I’m in the area.

The second boutique in Birmingham is the beauty salon and beauty-supply store Todd’s Room. A nice SA named Eric helped me; he cheerfully left me alone to sniff to my heart’s content, yet was ready with help should I need him. Todd’s Room carries Serge Lutens, Odin, Comptoir sud Pacifique, Parfums d’orsay, Keiko Mecheri, Christine Calle, Frank, Miller etIMG_5090 Bertaux, and Bond no.9

By the way, both of these boutiques were very generous with the samples.

Beyond niche perfumery, Detroit has the second-largest Arab-American population in the US, so I love to head over to Warren road in Dearborn, a mind-bogglingly long street simply packed with Arabic groceries, butchers, delis, and coffee roasters. Digging around those stores long enough can turn up some really interesting smellies as well. You just have to ask…..

Beyond that, Detroit also has the large shopping centers. I go to The Somerset Collection—a bizarre segregated mall with the high-end and normal retail stores housed in two separate buildings connected by a sky bridge. There, you can smell creed, annick goutal etc., at Saks 5th Ave and Neiman Marcus, but ask for samples at Nordstrom—I find they are the most generous. Also in these odd twinned malls: Anthropologie, Sephora, Hervi Bendel, L’occitane, Aveda, and more designer boutiques (w/accompanying perfumes) than you can shake a stick at.

The bottom line: head to Birmingham for some really exciting niche perfume shopping—you will enjoy the experience and like the shops. Then, if your nostrils haven’t partied enough, consider heading to Dearborn and Somerset Collection.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Phoenix and Andy Tauer

phoenix The Phoenix, an Anglo-Saxon poem, tells the story of the Phoenix’s migration across exotic lands to find its special island, where it builds a nest out of exotic spices with loving and tender care, only to immolate itself in this fragrant nest/bier.

The poetry is very beautiful. You can hear it being read out loud in Old English here.

Bið him neod micel

þæt he þa yldu         ofestum mote

þurh gewittes wylm         wendan to life,
feorg geong onfon.         þonne feor ond neah
þa swetestan         somnað ond gædrað
wyrta wynsume         ond wudubleda

to þam eardstede,         æþelstenca gehwone,
wyrta wynsumra,         þe wuldorcyning,
fæder frymða gehwæs,         ofer foldan gescop
to indryhtum         ælda cynne,
swetes under swegle.         þær he sylf biereð

in þæt treow innan         torhte frætwe;
þær se wilda fugel         in þam westenne
ofer heanne beam         hus getimbreð,
wlitig ond wynsum,         ond gewicað þær
sylf in þam solere,         ond ymbseteð utan
phoenix aberdeen

in þam leafsceade         lic ond feþre
on healfa gehware         halgum stencum
ond þam æþelestum         eorþan bledum.

(OE from Georgetown’s A-Z index of Anglo-Saxon poetry)

The modern English translation of this passage by Bradley (plus a little more):

When the wind lies low and the weather is fair and the holy clear gem of heaven shines, when the clouds are cleared away and the torrent of the waters remains stilled and every storm is lulled beneath the firmament, when from the south the warm ethereal candle sweetly sheds its light, then he begins to build in the branches, to prepare a nest. A great compulsion is upon him, through an upsurge of awareness, that he must urgently turn that senility to life and take on a new being. Then far and near he garners and gathers in to that dwelling-place the most fragrant and delightsome herbs that the King of glory, Father of each created thing, created to the honour of mankind, the most fragrant beneath the firmament. There he himself bears the splendid treasure into the tree where in the wasteland the wild bird builds a house at the top of the tall tree, lovely and delightsome, and there in that solarium he installs himself and in that leafy obscurity surrounds himself body and wings on every side with sanctifying odours and the noblest flowers of the earth. He settles down, eagerly anticipating his destiny.

When in the season of summer the sun at its hottest, gem of the firmament, shines upon the gloom and fulfils its appointed task and scans the world, then his house becomes heated by virtue of the clear firmament. The herbs grow warm; the abode of his choosing exhales fragrant odours. Then in the heat the bird burns along with his nest in the grip of the fire.The pyre is kindled. The flame engulfs the house of the bloodied creature; fierce, it races on; yellow flame devours and burns the phoenix, old with years long gone. Then fire devours the ephemeral body; the life, the spirit of the dying bird is on its way when the flame of the funeral pyre incinerates flesh and bone.

The phoenix is a symbol of Christ's death—to Christians at least—but it is also a sign for the divine, the unknowable, and fragrance’s role in reaching the Gods. The phoenix’s death is beautiful because it is fragrant—he suffers death on pile of incense.

I am especially moved by the phoenix’s oddly maternal creation of a nest for his own aged body to burn upon—he is a completely sterile creature, one who creates himself again and again  in an endless cycle of death and rebirth, with no parents, and no children, besides his own lonely self. His existence leads to very interesting questions: how do we define life? What is divinity? Is there a liminal space between the two categories—divinity and organic life—which the phoenix inhabits? And most importantly, can we come closer to defining an aesthetics of death, in which scent plays a very important part?

I think of the phoenix often when I smell incense-based perfumes, think of the deep and ancient connection between divinity, death, and fragrance—one of the oldest forms of worship throughout the world, after all, is pro fumis—fragrant offerings to the gods through smoke. Thus, an incense-oriented perfume must respect its ancient origins. I do not expect it to be too reverent, too churchy, although at times such a thing is very enjoyable. But I do expect it to be ever so rich, and as beautiful as possible, made with great care out of a clutch of fragrant material, like a jewel-like nest of frankincense, myrrh, and fragrant herbs and flowers.

Andy Tauer’s Incense Rosé opens with a spicy blast of cardamom—flanked by citrus and pepper, then pushes into rose territory. But since this is Tauer, this is not a rose perfume by any means—the rose simple lends the rather stark incense and spice composition a certain round floral heart. The cardamom stays strong and lophoenixvely for quite a long time, and I would say it is the dominant note of the first part of the fragrance’s evolution. Something about it strikes me as bitter, and ever so slightly sharp.

The incense aspect of the perfume opens up a little bit as it wears, but I found myself wanting more…

this is the least intense of the Tauers I have smelled, perhaps the most ‘refined’ and well-behaved, but I must say I find myself wanting a little more of that heavy oomph that I go to Tauer perfumes looking for…

That said, there is something special about the way the woody-spicy cardamom interacts with the resinous incense—a feeling that is both ancient and powerful, and in keeping with my mythological expectations—I just wish there were more of it..

IN fact, that’s the feeling I take away from both of Tauer’s well-crafted incense fragrances—this and Incense Extrême--they are lovely and interesting, and I want more of them—more scent, more longevity, a bit more sillage. These are lovely, almost minimalist creations, but I want something a little more operatic here.

Credits :

images of the phoenix from the Aberdeen bestiary


Friday, June 18, 2010

tips for controlling your perfume addiction

403px-Midas_gold2 I love perfume. I want it. I want to own bottles of the things I love. I am coming to understand that these urges need to be counterbalanced by a little self-awareness and frugality. SO here, I present you with the rules I have established to keep my growing addiction in check.

  • keep your collection in plain sight of your household; if you are ashamed of your passion and feel the need to hide it, maybe you need to examine it a little more thoroughly.

  • make a monthly budget and stay within it—this is hard, especially when you run into a great sale.

  • never buy a bottle cold—I must sample the fragrance on my skin at least 5 times before buying. 

  • use the bottles you have. Don’t just let them sit there unused.


  • bear in mind that this is a collection—some people stock a cellar with wine-you choose to do the same with fragrance. No need to feel overly guilty about a legit hobby, but just compare your budget and use of resources with peers who collect other things.

  • only buy fragrances on sale, unless they absolutely never get discounted. But even the most costly treasures are discounted from time to time—for example—bergdorf goodman just ran a $25 off sale on all fine fragrance purchases over 100. It’s worth the wait. But then, also remember your responsibility to local retailers and smaller businesses. I try not to buy everything from big companies.

  • don’t sniff at the cheap gems. Some really great fragrances are yours for the having at only 15-20 bucks.

  • consider trading/sharing bottles with others.

  • Be nice and give things away from time to time to resist miserliness. four of pentacles

  • keep your collection organized. know what you have—This is harder than it seems, I think. 

  • own a representative bottle of each category of fragrance, and then stop buying in that category until you have used up the bottle. For example—I own Mitsouko for chypre, and try to avoid buying others, but then of course, I can always come up with a subcategory that I ‘need’


This is just an initial list of strategies. Anyone else have other recommendations?


King Midas with his daughter, from A Wonder Book for Boys and Girls by Nathaniel Hawthorne courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Three words: Eew, eew, and eew


Damn that Mariah Carey and her saccharine juvenilia, now complete with tooth-rot, Laurent le Guernec AND repulsive references to engagement. Behold the latest atrocity:

link to NYT article on Mariah’s new perfume line

Credits: Brown Sugar pic courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


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